The term cocktail was first defined in New York in 1806. Cocktail historian David Wondrich argues that "cock-tail was a (somewhat vulgar) slang term for something that would course through, give you a surge of energy, lift your spirits, and basically cock your tail up like a prancing horse’s." Every drink has its very own story. Here are the histories behind some of the most iconic, classic cocktails.
This cocktail is as old as it gets. The earliest written reference of the term ‘cocktail’ comes from the 1806 edition of a newspaper titled The Balance and Columbian Repository. It defined a cocktail as: “stimulating” liquor, spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters. In the 1870s and 1880s, bartenders began to experiment with new ingredients. Those who enjoyed the traditional cocktail ordered the “old fashioned whiskey/brandy cocktail” and this is how the Old Fashioned got its name.
Several theories exist to explain the origin of the Martini. In one theory, the Martini was invented in Martinez, California during the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s. When a gold miner went to a local bar to celebrate his newly found fortune, he ordered a bottle of champagne. A concoction known as “The Martinez Special” was created for occasions when champagne was unavailable. When a miner requested for the drink in San Francisco, the local bartender asked for the instructions. Another theory explains that the drink was invented in San Francisco for a miner traveling to Martinez. Over the years, the amount of gin in the drink has increased and the Martini has been made into many different variations. Whether it is dirty, dry, or has a modern twist, the Martini is a true classic.
Like the Martini, the Manhattan also has an ambiguous history. Some say the drink was invented at the Manhattan club for a party thrown by Winston Churchill’s mother. However, Lady Randolph Churchill was in fact in England, giving birth to her daughter Winnie at the time of the supposed party so this theory is unlikely. Years after the appearance of the drink, William Mulhall, a bartender at the famous Hoffman House, wrote that the drink was invented by a man named Black who lived in New York during the 1860s.
The Bloody Mary originated from Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. During the Russian Revolution, Russians fled to Paris armed with vodka and caviar. At the same time, Harry's bartender, Ferdinand Petiot, was introduced to canned tomato juice thanks to the numerous American customers who frequented the bar during the prohibition era. After a year of experimentation, Petiot made a seasoned tomato vodka drink called “Bucket of Blood,” an early form of the Bloody Mary. Petiot then brought the drink to the King Cole Bar in New York under the name “Red Snapper.”
Like most classic cocktails, the Margarita has several stories of origin. Carlos Herrera, the owner of Rancho La Gloria, a restaurant in Tijuana, claims that he invented the drink in 1938 for Marjorie King, a customer who was allergic to all liquor except tequila. To capture the essence of a tequila shot, Herrera created the Margarita. A woman named Margarita Sames also claims that she invented the drink for a dinner party she hosted. Party attendees included the Hilton hotel chain’s founder, Conrad Hilton. Over time, people have given the classic Margarita their own twist.
The Mojito is one of Cuba’s oldest cocktails. The drink’s roots can be traced to 1586 when Sir Francis Drake tried to rob Havana of all its gold. Even though the invasion failed, Richard Drake, an associate of Sir Francis Drake, created a drink called “El Draque.” This early form of the mojito was made from aguardiente ( a crude version of rum), sugar, lime, and mint. Even though the story is compelling, others believe the drink was invented by African slaves who worked in the sugarcane fields of Cuba. The name, Mojito, comes from the African word mojo, which means a magic charm. Here's a Side Chef recipe inspired by this charming drink.
Gin was first invented by a doctor in Holland. It was initially used as medicine as it was believed to improve circulation. Due to its low cost, it gained popularity in the UK. In 1857, when the British colonized India, the early colonists struggled with malaria. To combat malaria, they drank tonic water that was heavily infused with quinine, an extract from the South American cinchona tree. This extract was known to prevent and cure malaria. However, this miracle drink had quite a bitter taste. The colonists realized that the addition of sugar, ice, citrus, and gin greatly improved the flavor of the tonic water. This concoction is now known as Gin and Tonic.
This orange juice and vodka drink was invented by American oil workers in the Persian Gulf. During work, the workers discreetly added vodka to their orange juice. As they did not have spoons on the job, they used their screwdrivers to stir the drink, providing the drink with its iconic name.
Now that you know the history of the most iconic cocktails, it’s time to make your own! Explore the SideChef app to find recipes for classic cocktails with a modern twist.